Val Bourne discusses both the disappointment and the joy of growing trilliums. They can have an expensive price tag and be tricky to cultivate, which often puts gardeners off growing them, but with a little perseverance, Val says that they are worth the extra effort and expense.
Here we’ve listed some of Val’s favourite trilliums to tempt you into growing them.
A showy species with sultry red-to-purple bracts and sepals above strongly marked foliage. This particular form was sourced from Harvington Clone A, a seed-raised trillium, which means that variations can and do occur as is generally true for many seed-raised trilliums.
This dainty trillium flowers early, and loves acid soil. Its petals (normally wine-red) and green sepals, are held on a stalk above bright foliage. Can suffer frost damage.
60cm. AGM*. RHS H5, USDA 4a-7b.
Broad-petalled, wine-red flowers, with quilled, dark and narrow sepals behind, are held on stalks above large, rounded leaves. The flowers, which curtsey slightly, smell musty and attract flies.
45cm. USDA 3a-9b
T. flexipes ‘Harvington Dusky Pink’
A strong hybrid of T. flexipes and T. sulcatum that took Hugh Nunn ten years to select and raise. Its dusky pink flowers are framed by narrow, red-edged sepals, and the strong stems also have a pink-flush.
A sweetly fragrant, maroon-red trillium that carries its flowers under the foliage on an almost horizontal stalk making the flower look as though it’s nodding. Hides its flowers perhaps a little too well.
60cm. USDA 5a-8b
T. flexipes a Harvington selection
A good selection from T. flexipes with rounded green foliage topped with cream-white flowers and a pale pink ovary (rather than the usual creamy-white one). This strong-growing trillium is tolerant of lime, being found naturally on wooded limestone slopes.
Each of its creamy-white flowers has an attractive dark eye in shades of purple and midnight-blue, resembling a miniature clematis flower. It clumps up well in humus-rich, damp soil.
45cm. USDA 3a-9b.
Possibly the best-loved trillium, with full-petalled, large, white flowers that can vary in size and are held on stems above dark-green foliage. Flowers later than many in May and June.
45cm. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 3a-9b.
T. ‘Harvington Star’
An elegant, creamy-white hybrid of T. simile and T. flexipes ‘Harvington Selection’. Narrow petals, separated by slender green bracts, form starry flowers with a dark red ovary at the centre.
A showy, early flowerer with freesia-scented, pale flowers and lily-green bracts set above green-veined, slightly ruffled foliage that can be splashed in shades of grey-brown and creosote.
50cm. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 3a-9b
As its name, yellow wood trillium, suggests, this showy trillium needs shady conditions. Stays in flower for weeks so very garden worthy and colour develops as flowers mature.
30cm. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 4a-7b.
Known as the Louisiana trillium, this has strongly marked leaves and erect flowers, which can vary from green through to purple. The wavy-edged petals are set around upright, wide stamens.
30cm. USDA 7a-8b
T. grandiflorum f. roseum
Cool-pink flowers, rather like most montana clematis in colour, held above all-green foliage, which hasa red picotee edge due to presence of anthocyanin. Pink formsare locally frequent in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Kentucky, although Hugh Nunn’s pink forms originated in Virginia.
45cm. RHS H5.
This small trillium with red-speckled white flowers loves stream edges, but will need drainage and moisture to do well. Less hardy than some, it’s often grown in an alpine situation.
15cm. AGM. RHS H4, USDA 5a-9b
Broad, green foliage and a curving stalk that tucks the flower under the foliage typify this robust species. Its distinctive flowers have strongly recurved petals that turn back on themselves.
45cm. USDA 3a-9b
Trillium grandiflorum f. polymerum ‘Flore Pleno’
The most desirable trillium of all for most gardeners, with double white flowers set above all-green foliage. It’s later than the single form and doesn’t set seed because most forms are sterile. Propagation demands division and this makes it expensive, but the fully petalled flowers last much longer than the single forms.
45cm. RHS H5, USDA 3a-9b.
Words Val Bourne
Photos Lyn Keddie